AFC North Summary: Baltimore has a left tackle returning along with Suggs as a pass rusher. Baltimore also has some 2010 draft picks that didn’t play due to injury who know the team playbook.
Pittsburgh does not have a blue chip left tackle plus Pittsburgh wants to throw on 10 percent more of the plays they call. The Steelers have a brutal schedule with no bye week in their first 10 weeks plus they play the Ravens, Colts, and Texans all on the road. Pittsburgh could easily be 1-3 heading into week 5. Ben Roethlisberger stated in the offseason he wants to throw more this year. After quarterback left tackle is the most important position on offense period. You cannot win a Super Bowl without a pass blocking left tackle anymore. The NFL has evolved and is much more competitive than it was a decade ago.
Cleveland has a really easy schedule with 3 of their first 4 games at home. The Browns don’t play the Steelers or the Ravens until week 13 so the Browns may be a sleeper.
Cincinnati should remain the bottom feeder of the AFC North. The Bengals may have some questions to answer in 2012. Who will be their new head coach? Who will they draft in the top 5?
AFC South Summary: I love the improvements that the Texans made this offseason. Switching to the 3-4, getting the right players with the right draft picks, and signing Jonathan Joseph as your #1 shutdown corner.
I think the Titans will struggle early with Matt Hasselbeck. Jake Locker will make strides and prove why the Titans made the right decision by drafting him. Locker will win the starting job by season end.
Teams who host the Super Bowl never make the playoffs. The Colts have a brutal schedule plus there is no guarantee that Peyton Manning has recovered from his surgery. I know Manning is a tough player, but the Colts reign of owning the AFC South is going to end sooner or later.
Jack Del Rio has never cared about preparing his team during practices. The fact that Jacksonville has two quarterbacks, Maurice Jones Drew potentially declining due to injury, no Mike Sims Walker, and a lack of identity on defense makes the Jaguars a team that could pick in the top 5 next April. I loved the Jaguars last year and picked them as a wild card because Jacksonville had a lot of underrated talent. The Jaguars lost a lot of talent this offseason and appear as one of the more overrated teams this season.
AFC East Summary: New England made some big moves. The fact that New England got Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth while the Jets failed to get Asomugha puts the Patriots over the top.
The Jets did not sign Nnamdi Asomugha and their defense does have some suspect areas. New York still has more than enough talent to make the playoffs.
Buffalo has no top notch talent, but the team chemistry is there in Buffalo. I’m giving Buffalo the edge over Miami simply due to their team chemistry.
Miami did not trade for Kyle Orton. Instead Miami opted for Matt Moore. I think Miami finishes in last place.
AFC West Summary: San Diego should win this division thanks to Rivers. The AFC West is a crapshoot. The Chiefs have the best defense and the Chargers have the best quarterback. San Diego’s offensive line is better than Kansas City’s so the Chargers get the edge and take the division.
Oakland may regress to a certain degree with a new coach along with the loss of Nnamdi Asomugha. The Raiders will be one of the teams that will be in the mix to win this division.
Denver’s biggest need was defensive tackle. Denver did not even draft a defensive tackle. They have 2 quarterbacks and when you have 2 quarterbacks you have no quarterback. Denver could also use another corner to compliment Champ Bailey.
Denver has two injury prone backs in their backfield on offense with Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno.
AFC Wild Card Matchups
AFC Divisional Matchups
NFC North Summary: Green Bay had 16 players on injured reserve last year and still won Super Bowl 45. Green Bay has those players returning along with some of their top draft picks. Green Bay looks like the team to beat in the NFC North and possibly the NFC all together.
The Lions lack a premium left tackle, linebacking core, or #1 shutdown corner. Detroit does have a deadly defensive line for their 4-3 scheme though. Detroit’s 4-3 defense along with a better supporting cast than Minnesota or Chicago should put them in 2nd place if Stafford stays healthy.
Both the Vikings and Bears lost a lot of talent. Minnesota didn’t foolishly trade away their star tight end like Chicago did by dealing Greg Olsen to Carolina. Plus the Vikings added another tight end by adding Kyle Rudolph to compliment Shiancoe.
NFC South Summary: Atlanta added Ray Edwards as a 4-3 left end to compliment John Abraham. Atlanta has two pass rushing sack artists along with corners Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes. Atlanta also traded up for Julio Jones in a blockbuster trade during the 2011 NFL Draft. I love the moves Atlanta made even though I probably would not have moved up that high to draft Jones.
Tampa Bay has the offensive talent in place to make the playoffs. The Buccaneers added defensive talent in the draft and have the pieces to compete.
New Orleans is a very talented team. The problem is that their in a competitive division and there is no guarantee Cameron Jordan stands out as a rookie.
Carolina should start Jimmy Clausen. Carolina surprises people and wins 2 of their first three against Jacksonville and Arizona. After losing 2 straight Clausen wins a start against Washington to keep his job.
Carolina goes 3-5 in the first half of the season with Jimmy Clausen. The Panthers make a quarterback change and start Cam Newton. Newton goes 0-8 during the final 8 games leaving many Panthers fans to question his ability as a starter.
Washington Redskins 1-15
NFC East Summary: I picked the Eagles to miss the playoffs in my last series of power rankings. The Philadelphia Eagles went from having the worst secondary to having the best secondary in the NFL. Nnamdi Asoumugha will be the #1 corner, with Asante Samuel being a #2 corner, along with Dominique Rodgers as a nickel corner. All three corners are capable of being #1 corners. The Eagles also added Jason Babin to compliment Trent Cole and have Brandon Graham and a player who played in the CFL who recorded 16 sacks the previous season. The Eagles are stacked with pass rushers and corners who can play man to man containing the passing game. Making these defensive upgrades gives the Eagles the edge in the NFC East.
The New York Giants still have the playmakers along with one of the best defenses in the league. I don’t like the retooling the Giants did on the offensive line. The New York Giants finished in the top 10 in every category except points allowed last season.
Dallas will be back with a healthy Tony Romo and an improved offensive line with Doug Free at left tackle and Tyron Smith at right tackle. The lack of secondary will make the Cowboys pass defense suspect. Fixing the pass defense was a major priority in Dallas.
Washington needs a quarterback along with a better offensive line to build around their quarterback. I’d be shocked if Washington didn’t win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Luck stated earlier this week that this would be his final year at Stanford with him being able to graduate at the end of April.
NFC West Summary: The NFC West is a weak division. I have the Rams winning 6 of their 7 games against NFC West teams.
San Francisco will be better than some people think. Their not a playoff team by any means necessary though.
Seattle will struggle without Matt Hasselbeck and 4 backup quarterbacks who should be anchoring a practice squad.
Arizona may have a quarterback with huge upside and potential in Kevin Kolb. I honestly think Kolb is the poor mans Aaron Rodgers. Even if Kolb does succeed the rest of his team will not. He has no offensive line. Joey Porter and Clark Haggans are past their prime and will not get to the quarterback. Plus Arizona doesn’t have a #2 corner who can play next to Patrick Peterson so teams with #2 wide receivers will be able to pick apart the Cardinals with ease. If Patrick Peterson struggles then the secondary will get torched on a weekly basis.
NFC Wild Card Predictions
NFC Divisional Round Predictons
1 seed Atlanta Falcons over 5 seed New York Giants and 3 seed Green Bay Packers over 2 seed Philadelphia Eagles
AFC Championship Breakdown 3 seed Houston Texans VS 1 seed Baltimore Ravens
I love the New England Patriots and hope they end the playoff drought. I think Houston has the talent to play with New England and I also like the Texans team chemistry better. Haynesworth and Ochocinco may cause some issues in the locker room. Houston also has the pass rushers for the 3-4 to get by New England’s offensive line while New England does not have a pass rusher to get by Houston’s offensive line. The Texans brought in Jonathan Joseph a former teammate of Chad Ochocinco who can keep #85 in check. Joseph covered Ochocinco one on one every day in practice when his career first started. Joseph was a rookie when Chad was an established superstar at wide receiver. Now Joseph is the established shut down corner while many people think Chad Ochocinco is past his prime.
Baltimore’s best corner is rookie Jimmy Smith. A rookie corner is not winning a one on one matchup with Andre Johnson. I gave Baltimore the edge over Pittsburgh because the Steelers lack two blue chip starters at offensive tackle thanks to the departure of Starks and Flozell Adams.
If Baltimore and Houston play for the AFC Title I’m giving the edge to Houston because Andre Johnson should torch Jimmy Smith in the one on one matchup. The Houston Texans added undrafted free agent wide receiver Terrance Tolliver who I believe is this years undrafted sleeper.
Houston has Jonathan Joseph, Kareem Jackson, Brandon Harris, and Rashad Carmichael as 4 key corners. The Texans also have Mario Williams at the weakside in the 3-4 with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reid splitting playing time at the strong side spot. Houston has DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing at middle linebacker so it will be hard for Baltimore to run on Houston.
Houston has a good 3-4 defensive line with JJ Watt, Amobi Okoye, and Antonio Smith.
I’m doing something really crazy and picking Houston to go to the Super Bowl.
NFC Championship 3 Seed Green Bay Packers VS 1 Seed Atlanta Falcons
I probably should pick Green Bay since 16 players are coming off IR. I am going to pick Atlanta though because I love the Ray Edwards signing pairing him up next to Jonathan Abraham. Atlanta has two pass rushers who can get by Green Bay’s offensive line and they also have 2 corners who could contain the Packers receiving core in Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes.
Atlanta will have Roddy White and Julio Jones who are two receivers who could pick apart Green Bay’s secondary if Jones has a big rookie campaign. I know Atlanta lost two of their starting guards, but the Falcons return a sick passing game along with a pass defense that should play well enough to get the Falcons to a Super Bowl.
Super Bowl 46 Prediction Atlanta Falcons VS Houston Texans
Teams who switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4 usually don’t get to the Super Bowl in their first year. New England won their 2nd Super Bowl under Belicheck when he switched to the 3-4 during the Patriots first year running the 3-4, but Belicheck is a really smart coach that’s the exception to the rule.
Dunta Robinson and Andre Johnson were once teammates in Houston and now they will play each other on the big stage if my Super Bowl prediction comes true. Falcons head coach Mike Smith was once a defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and he coached against the Texans high octane offense led by Andre Johnson twice a year before he was the Falcons head coach so he knows how to gameplan against Andre Johnson.
Matt Ryan is the best quarterback that hasn’t won a Super Bowl in the league right now and Atlanta has their offensive tackles returning along with a pass rusher who can compliment sack artist Jonathan Abraham.
I picked the Falcons and Patriots to get homefield last year a week after the 2010 NFL Draft. This year I’m taking the Falcons to win the Lombardi Trophy. Matt Ryan will win Super Bowl MVP honors.